Writing tips from literary agent Jonny Geller, publisher Alex Clarke and authors Felicia Yap and Lisa Jewell

Jacob Collins, a former student on our Writing Crime Fiction course, attended a Rooftop Book Club event. At the event, he spoke to a number of agents and writers, and in this article, he tells us their top tips for success in the literary industry.

Jacob Collins
Jacob Collins

There are many of us who dream of writing and publishing a bestseller, and of having the words Sunday Times Bestseller or New York Times Bestseller on the front jacket of your book.

On Tuesday, 19th September 2017, I went to a Rooftop Book Club event. The event took place on their rooftop terrace which offers stunning views of London.

This isn’t the first rooftop book club event I have attended and I would highly recommend them. You can find details of upcoming events by clicking here: Rooftop Book Club

Portrait photograph of the view from the Hathet HQ Rooftop Book Club: a wide view over the river Thames, with the London Eye in shot.

The speakers were literary agent and CEO of Curtis Brown Jonny Geller, publisher Alex Clarke, bestselling author, Lisa Jewell and debut novelist Felicia Yap. You can find their top tips on writing and publishing a bestseller below.

You have to be able to tell what your book is about in two sentences if you are hoping to entice booksellers, publishers and agents.

– Jonny Geller

To start things off, Jonny and Alex were both asked what excites them when they receive a submission from a new writer. Jonny says that it is always the writer’s own unique voice, something that belongs to them.

He also advised spending a lot of time thinking about your cover letter, as the cover letter shows the agent that this writer can write.

When Jonny first receives the submission he doesn’t look at the synopsis, but he will do when he wants to find out more if, by page ten, he is desperate to know what happens next.

The synopsis has to be confident and controlled and it should be the author’s take on their own book.

He also explained that he is looking for the serious writers and not the hobbyists. At Curtis Brown they receive a whopping 50,000 manuscripts a year but he stressed that all agents are hungry for new writers.

You have to grab the agent from the start with the cover letter. If the cover letter isn’t to a professional standard or if it doesn’t showcase yourself as a writer, it’s unlikely that your submission will be taken further.

Both Jonny and Alex agreed that you have to be able to tell what your book is about in two sentences if you are hoping to entice booksellers, publishers and agents.

Apply creativity to both your writing and submission.

– Lisa Jewell

Lisa was asked about her writing process. She has to write away from home and the internet which can be a distraction to her writing and finds that she writes quicker and better when she gives herself a time frame to write.

Her last three books were written in three months and she was writing 1,000 words a day.

Interestingly, Lisa never plots her novels, and sometimes doesn’t know the ending of her books until she comes to write it.

According to her, this is a great way of creating pace in your writing as you are discovering what happens next the same time as the reader is.

When Felicia Yap was writing Yesterday, she did fourteen edits of her book before submitting it to fifteen beta readers.

She found being part of a writing group immensely helpful; to help with her research she even sent her manuscript to the Metropolitan police who provided her with useful feedback.

Her advice on the submission process is that it is equally important to apply creativity to the writing and submission.

Top tips from Jonny

  • Read widely, not just in your chosen genre.
  • Don’t let anyone see your book until you’ve nailed everything down.
  • Make your reader feel something. If they don’t connect with the characters, to the reader it’s just another book.
  • People want to see issues played out in fiction. Trends never get in the way of passion or connection.
  • Get your personality & the flavour of the book across succinctly.

Top tips from Alex

  • No matter what trend you’re aiming at, you’ve still got to write a beautiful book.
  • New writers must be able to tell what their book is about in two sentences.
  • You must be able to step back and think about all the different elements of your book.

Top tips from Lisa

  • When you’re thinking up an idea, try and think about the universal experience. This was the secret to the success of The Girl on the Train. We can all relate to the character, Rachel, commuting to London every day and peering into people’s homes and lives. What if we saw something that we shouldn’t have?
  • Find a specific time in the day to write.

Top tips from Felicia

  • Determination & tenacity to succeed is key and to never give up.
  • As writers, we should keep asking questions about the world around us and to stay curious.
  • Read your work out loud, this will help you find sentences which are clunky and help you to improve your prose, especially dialogue.

This article was first published on Jacob Collins’ blog and we’ve reproduced it here with his consent.

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Meet your Guest author

Jacob Collins

Jacob Collins

Jacob Collins has been writing since he was ten and is currently writing a crime novel. He publishes his reviews of crime and psychological thriller novels on his blog, which also features author interviews.

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